Friday, November 28, 2003

THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR JEWISH STUDIES has put its latest bulletin online. It has lots of information about jobs (in the U.K. and elsewhere), upcoming conferences worldwide, British seminar programs, recent publications of British scholars, current dissertations being supervised in Britain, and surveys of Jewish and Holocaust studies in Britain.
CYRUS THE GREAT is to be the subject of a British film that is now being planned, with Sean Connery and Angelina Jolie being sought as, respectively, the star and his empress. The goal of the movie is "to promote harmony across all the world's religions." All this according to the Daily Telegraph via N. S. Gill's Ancient/Classical History blog.

In other news of biblical gentiles in the Second Temple Period, according to Nature, Alexander the Great may have died of West Nile fever. At least part of the evidence for this seems to be a folkloristic-sounding passage in Plutarch which was written some centuries after the actual event, so I would treat the theory with due caution.
EDWARD M. COOK weighs in on the Aramaic of the "James Ossuary" in his essay "Remarks On The Aramaic Of The James Ossuary" on the Bible and Interpretation website. Excerpts:

��� Although many have wished to consign the "James Ossuary" to the dust heap of history, it continues to engender passionate comment. My own position on this artifact is still undecided. However, I do not believe that the ossuary, if authentic, tells us much that we did not already know from Galatians, one of the earliest, and most unquestionably authentic of the Pauline epistles, which refers to "James the Lord's brother" (1:19). The most the ossuary can do is confirm something that no one has seriously doubted.

��� If I do choose this moment to enter the discussion, it is because several comments have been made about the Aramaic dialect of this inscription, which are unfounded or misleading. These comments center on the second part of the inscription that reads ahuy d'Yeshua, "brother of Jesus." It has been claimed that certain elements of this phrase are uncharacteristic of first-century Aramaic.

[Detailed grammatical analysis follows.]

��� In summation, the short phrase ahuy d'Yeshua in the James Ossuary is perfectly acceptable Aramaic for the first century CE. Its morphology and its syntax are consistent with expected developments in Aramaic and are paralleled by other occurrences in other texts from the same period or earlier.

��� Is the James Ossuary authentic? Maybe, maybe not. But any final answer will have to come on non-linguistic grounds.

Philologists and epigraphers seem considerably more ambivalent about the inscription than do the archaeologists.
FEAR OF TERRORISM is having a negative impact on travel to Israel. No suprise but a great pity.
LA GEN�SE is a new African movie whose dialogue is in Bambara and which tells the story of Jacob, Hamor, and Esau. It's based on the narrative of Genesis 32-34, although it seems to take liberties with the order of events. Excerpt from the review in the Jamaica Observer:

The movie is based on the story of Jacob, Esau and caught in the middle their cousin Hamor. It begins after Jacob (Sotigui Kouyat�) learns that his son Joseph is dead, and he has his family in mourning over the loss. Only Rebecca his wife is tired of being in mourning and asks her daughter Dinah (Fatoumata Diawara) to wash the bloodied robe that Joseph's brother brought back as proof. Esau and his tribe of hunters are shadowing Jacob, waiting for the right moment to strike.

At the same time Hamor's son kidnaps Dinah and takes her virginity, and falls in love with her, so now he wants to marry her. Jacob and his 12 sons will not allow it unless the two tribes become one. To do that Hamor's tribe must circumcise all the males. When they do, Jacob's 12 sons invade the tribe and kill the entire line of Hamor. For that Dinah goes crazy and Hamor decides, too much blood has been shed, it is time for compromise.

While they converge for peace talks, Esau plans his attack. In the night we see how Jacob fights the angel of the Lord, and how Esau spares his life, and how Jacob's name is changed to Israel.

Sounds interesting.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

JONATHAN PENNINGTON, one of our doctoral students at St. Mary's College, gave a paper at the SBL meetings which gets a good review from blogger Stephen C. Carlson of Hypotyposeis. Well done, Jonathan.
POPE JOHN PAUL II delivered an address yesterday which dealt thoughtfully with the meaning of Psalm 110 (Vulgate, 109) in its original context and in its subsequent interpretation by the Church.
IGNORANT STEREOTYPING ALERT (from an MSNBC News article on religion in the campaigns of the nine Democratic presidential candidates):

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean � a Congregationalist Christian who said he prays almost daily and reads the Bible but rarely attends church these days unless it is for a political event � compared some fundamentalist leaders to the Pharisees, an ancient Jewish sect that emphasized strict interpretation and observance of religious law but who have come to be associated with self-righteousness.

I can't believe that people are still repeating this stereotype of the Pharisees, but a Google search looking for this quote shows me that it is still extremely common. For the record, as current biblical encyclopedias etc. now recognize, we have very little in the way of primary sources on the Pharisees and these sources all have their own agendas which may confuse matters. The Pharisees seemed to have had their own oral traditions about scriptural issues (like everyone else, whether they admit it or not); some involvement in politics earlier on; and a good bit of interest in table fellowship (the right way to eat meals before God), Jewish festival observance, and ritual purity - issues important to many if not all Jews in the same period. The unfortunate stereotyping of some New Testament passages has passed down a very distorted picture of the Pharisees.

It is fair to say that the Pharisees wanted to keep the Torah accurately because they believed that God gave it to them, and hence their attention to detail. If the rabbinic sages are any indication - and they do seem to be the spiritual descendents of the Pharisees - this zeal for the law was combined with an extraordinary concern and sensitivity for human need.

This Wikipedia article on "Pharisee" gives a fair summary of what we know (while making more of the rabbinic evidence than I would), as does this Columbia Encyclopedia article on "Pharisees". But this Daily Study Bible article "Who Were the Pharisees?" is a pretty comprehensive collection of ignorant stereotypes.

As you probably know, I don't trust the press to represent people's views accurately and I can't find a direct quote of what Dean said, but if he did say this, then I have to say he choose his words poorly. If one wants to criticize people for being hypocritical and self-righteous, it works fine just to say that they are being hypocritical and self-righteous.

UPDATE (2 December) David Nishimura (Cronaca) doesn't think I'll have much luck changing things and he may well be right (and in retrospect perhaps my blaring headline above was a little overdone). But my point was not entirely an arcane historical one: there aren't any medievals or Byzantines around these days, whereas there are Jews and some people are still prejudging them on the basis of stereotypes of the Pharisees. I've seen it myself and it's not pretty.
A SENIOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON who specializes in classical, biblical, and ancient Near Eastern languages has been named as a Rhodes Scholar. Go Allyssa!

Scholars say Jesus box may be genuine (CNN)

Tuesday, November 25, 2003 Posted: 1526 GMT (11:26 PM HKT)

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- A purported first-century inscription naming Jesus may or may not be the real thing, but Israel's labeling of the find as a fake is premature, scientists and scholars said at a panel discussion.


Panelists, speaking in Atlanta at the annual joint conference of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature on Sunday, said authorities should examine the box more closely before passing judgment.

"I don't know for sure whether this is a forged inscription, and I'm sort of cast as a defender of the inscription. I'm not," said moderator Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archeology Review, which published the initial findings. "What I do know is, Israeli authorities have badly managed the affair."


The hard, brown patina that covers the box could not be found on the inscription, where a soft, grayish chalk-and-water paste had been applied instead to imitate weathering, the [antiquities] authority said.

James Harrell, a geologist at the University of Toledo and member of the Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones in Antiquity, said his analysis of the inscription suggests the missing patina could simply be the result of overcleaning -- not forgery.

Shanks said experts from the antiquities authority declined to speak at the forum.


This panel was "at" the AAR/SBL convention in the sense that it was held at the same hotel (and anyone is free to rent a venue there) but it was not part of the official program. It was held at the same time as the archaeology section I blogged on below, the one with McCane's paper in it. Now why is it that journalists covered this privately arranged panel while ignoring McCane's paper, which was part of the official conference program and which went through the normal peer-review process to get into it?

UPDATE: USA Today (via Archaeology Magazine News) has coverage of discussion of the ossuary in last week's (before the AAR/SBL convention) meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Excerpts:

Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Amir Ganor said the James ossuary investigation has expanded to encompass Bible-era archaeological artifacts collected over the past 15 years by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.


In a presentation at the conference, [archaeologist Yuval] Goren described the "Jerusalem Syndrome" of forged relics, a reference to a similarly named psychological ailment afflicting tourists who visit Jerusalem and then become convinced they are characters from the Bible. Focusing on four cases of dubious artifacts, including the James ossuary, he listed common characteristics of fakes from the last decade:

� Publication or planned publication of the relic in Biblical Archaeology Review.

� Authentication of the relic's age by Geological Survey of Israel scientists and the inscription by paleographer Andr� Lemaire of Paris' Sorbonne University.

� Comments by outside experts that it's too good to be true.

"Our discipline may be contaminated to some extent by more such fakes," Goren warned. Past forgeries accepted as real suggest the science of paleography is "a fool's paradise," he said, useless for authenticating any inscriptions.

BY THE WAY, happy Thanksgiving to American readers, whether at home or abroad. My family, since we moved to Britain, postpone celebration to the weekend, since I'm normally very jet-lagged right after the SBL meetings; I have to teach classes on Thursday (when I'm not on leave, that is); and my son has school as usual. I'm working in my office today, but at least we've bought the turkey.

FYI: Raphael Patai Prize in Jewish Folklore and Ethnology

The Jewish Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society and the
Committee on the Anthropology of Jews and Judaism of the American Anthropological Association invites submissions of papers and publications from students for the Raphael Patai Prize in Jewish Folklore and Ethnology. The Prize recognizes scholarship from 2000 to 2003 from students in undergraduate and graduate programs who have done research in Jewish folklore and ethnology, including studies of expressive culture and social contexts in Jewish communities across the globe. The award includes a cash
prize and certificate. Send entries BEFORE DECEMBER 30, 2003 with a cover letter indicating program of study to:

Professor Simon J. Bronner
School of Humanities
The Pennsylvania State University
777 West Harrisburg Pike
Middletown, PA 17057-4898 717-948-6724 (fax)

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

IOUDAIOS REVIEW has just published three new reviews and you can download them here. The main Ioudaios Review page gives subscription information. Subscriptions are free and when you have one, all reviews are e-mailed to you as they come out.
ANCIENT JEWISH VILLAGE UPDATE: I've received the following e-mail from the excavator of the site:

A colleague of mine received your list message and brought it to my attention. I am the excavator of the site in Shuafat, Jerusalem.� The article in the Jerusalem Post was quite superficial�and I wanted to pass on some more info to whom ever is interested.�

The settlement is a single layer site with the origins dating to the second half of the first cent. CE.� It was likely built in�relation to the Roman road which�linked�Jerusalem to Nablus. This site is situated approximately at the place of the third mile from Jerusalem.�We identified�it as a Jewish village on the basis of the extensive�assemblage of stone vessels�deriving�insitu on floors and in fills including many "Qalal"�shapes.�The�latest pottery attributed to this layer dates to the first half of the 2nd�cent. CE.� The coins include a few Hasmonean (a late Hellenistic layer was not found though Herodian pottery was found in a few loci but not a substantial amount), post-Revolt coins up to 2nd cent though lacking Bar Kochva mint.� We did not find mikveot but we only excavated a strip 4.5 m in width (the total length was around 220 m).� The remains of at least two bathhouses were seen and possible third identified by a fill of tubuli and bricks (not insitu) in a single room. We found five ceramic inkwells in one room and a horde of glass bottles in another.� That's about it right now. I would be happy to answer any questions anyone may have.

My email is:�

Debbie Sklar-Parnes
Israel Antiquities Authority

Thanks Debbie.
I'M BACK IN ST. ANDREWS, after a long trip that was improved by my being upgraded to Business Class on the transatlantic leg. I have lots of blog-intended notes from the conference, plus a backlog of other items. Let's see how far I can get this afternoon.

On Sunday morning I heard Byron McCane speak on the "Ya'acob bar Yosef ahui di Yeshua' (i.e., the text of the "James Ossuary") in the Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries: Illuminating the Biblical World Section (S23-3). One of the concepts we ancient historians take for granted, yet have immense difficulty getting across to laypeople, is that there is a large range of "theories" that we or our subspecialties agree to be quite impossible and not worth talking about (because they are obviously grossly flawed methodologically or the evidence put forth for them is obviously wrong or for various other reasons). There are lots of other theories that are somewhere between barely possible and quite likely, and it is this latter category of the possible that we spend so much time arguing about, while we tend to ignore the impossible theories except when, say, a crank manages to get them some media attention, in which case we say that they're impossible and the crank complains about ossified mainstream scholarship which can't appreciate his or her grand breakthrough.

What I'm leading up to here is that Professor McCane and every other archaeologist who opened his or her mouth in this session clearly put the genuineness of the full inscription on the "James Ossuary" in the first category: impossible, disproved, and not worth discussing. I'm not an archaeologist myself, let alone a geologist or whoever it is who decides if patinas have been cut through or not. But I'm pretty impressed with this consensus and am disinclined to take the inscription seriously after seeing their united front. Still, I would like to see the refutation published in a peer-review journal in more detail than has been presented so far.

Late in the morning, Bob Kraft presented his paper "Exploring Greek Jewish Scribal Practices: The Evidence from the Earliest LXX/OG Fragments" in the Hellenistic Judaism Section (S23-9). Follow the link to get the full text of the paper on his website.

Bob also gave a paper on "Pursuing Papyrology via the Web" in the Computer Assisted Research Section (CARG - S23-58). Some of the sites he surveyed included:

The American Society of Papyrology
Texts, Manuscripts and Palaeography (Jay Treat)
Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (literary texts, but includes magical papyri)
John Muccigrosso's Papyrology Home Page (stops at the year 2000)
University of Michigan Papyrus Collection
Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri
Oxyrhynchus Online
Kraft's gopher papyri page
Unidentified Jewish and Christian Papyri (Kraft)
Kraft, "Textual Mechanics of Early LXX/OG papyri"

On Monday morning I gave my paper, Is the Story of Zosimus Really a Jewish Composition?" in the Pseudepigrapha Section (S24-20). One person asked if we shouldn't take the line that for Pseudepigrapha transmitted in Christian circles the burden of proof is on anyone making a claim about their origin, rather than on anyone wanting to move backwards to a Jewish text. This is true in a sense, but the point I was trying to drive home was that we actually have the physical manuscripts of a certain date and provenance. The MSS are physical facts and our starting point should be that the text made sense to someone as a Christian work at that date in those circles. The burden of proof is on anyone who wishes to move backwards from there. Sometimes it will be relatively straightforward to work backwards to a Jewish origin around the turn of the era (e.g., for 4 Ezra or the Psalms of Solomon). But in many cases, such as that of the Story of Zosimus and its sources, it is very difficult to make such a case. Another person cautioned that we have to be careful not to confuse composition with transmission, since they are not the same thing. I agree. But the starting point is the manuscripts and we need to work backwards from them as required by the evidence and only as required by the evidence.

On Monday afternoon I heard Joe Zias and Emile Puech speak on "The 'Tomb of Absalom' and the People of the Book: A Question of Literacy!" (S24-53). The point of the last clause was that for centuries in the late Middle Ages and early modern period people followed the custom of stoning the monument because they thought it was Absalom's. If any of them had been able to read the prominent inscriptions on the front of it, they would have realized that it wasn't. Zias and Puech also discussed the newly recovered Simeon inscription on the tomb, which I mentioned a few days ago.

Later on Monday afternoon I attended the session on "Massive Scholarly Data Projects: Perspectives and Experiences" (S24-120). The following projects were discussed:

Stephen Kaufman: Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon

Steve Tinney: Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary

Traianos Gagos: APIS (Advanced Papyrological Information System, on which see also above)

Gregory Crane was unfortunately not able to be present to discuss the Perseus Digital Library.

Also, Patrick Durusau spoke on "Lost in a Data Sea? Navigating with Topic Maps," and gave a number of websites on the subject. According to my notes, he said to see the technology section on the new Society of Biblical Literature website for the links. But I must have misunderstood something, because I can't find a technology section on the new Society of Biblical Literature website. I did write down one URL he mentioned:

I went to other interesting papers and took notes on some of them, but it's nearly supper time here and I imagine my family would like to see a little of me, so I think this will have to suffice. Overall, a very good conference.

By the way, Mark Goodacre is also blogging the conference. I'm glad I'm not the only one who wandered around like a lost soul looking for the e-listers at the Gramcord booth in the book displays. The lower level of displays was remarkably well hidden, with no elevator access and access by only one escalator at the back of the building.